After years of dealing with uncomfortable, ill-fitting, downright not-me clothes and countless fitting room mishaps, finally finding clothes that make me feel the most confident — most notably, tank tops, crop tops, or sports bras and joggers, leggings, or boyfriend jeans — was a welcome respite. But getting there was nothing short of an uphill battle, one I still fight from time to time.
Not long ago, I eagerly tried on a full, fitted, denim top, only to experience a full-blown fitting room disaster. After struggling to pull the top down over my bra, I decided this top wasn't it. Actually... it was more like the top decided that for me, considering my boobs looked like they would burst out of the neckline any second. Halfway into pulling the top off, disaster struck. My arms were stuck in the air, the top was wrapped around my face, and I wiggled my arms and body in a panic, because who gets suffocated by a crop top?
Clothes shopping wasn’t always this much of a battle, and I definitely haven't worn only tank tops my entire life. When I was younger, I'd try on anything, and my closet showed it. But as my body changed, so did my shopping experiences. By the end of high school — though it felt like it happened overnight — I had hips, which rejected my favorite skinny jeans. I had boobs, which had sized out of my go-to store. What I didn't have anymore was my old style. I felt lost trying to navigate the mall I always visited growing up. Suddenly, I had no clue how to shop for my body, and I felt like I was rebuilding my entire wardrobe from the ground up.
All of this was a natural, inevitable part of growing up — of having a body — but at the time, I was frustrated. Frustrated with clothes, with shopping, and, sadly, with my body. I'd internalized all the times I'd heard the women around me growing up express personal shame and fear over going up in their sizes. And unsurprisingly, I felt the same inexplicable sense of guilt over something as inconsequential as adding a bigger jean size, one that fit me comfortably mind you, to my shopping cart.
After some trial and error, both shopping and my view of my body weren't so bleak. I defined the premise for my new style, prioritizing items that didn't hide my body but, instead, moved with my body, promoting comfort and confidence. For me, this looked a lot like athleisure, along with some everyday basics. On top, I gravitate toward fitted crop tops, comfy tank tops, and sports bras that gave me support. On the bottom, you'll catch me in joggers, boyfriend jeans, or leggings with cool cutouts or mesh paneling, all of which make me love the way my hips curve. I don't shy away from a bold color or print, either.
Like most things, it wasn't immediately a happily-ever-after with my newfound fashion armor. Living in New York City, I assumed I could wear just about anything — wacky, attention-grabbing, what have you — and still go unnoticed in a faceless sea of bodies. But it seemed like the minute I finally secure in my style was an open invitation for everyone else to criticize it.
One person told me I should "dress more like a human" when I was wearing a crop top and distressed boyfriend jeans. Even more people are curious to know whether or not I own a "full shirt." I’ve had many grievances, veiled in "concern," cited against my choice of sleeveless tops when it’s cold outside. Overall, these critiques made me feel like my appearance was under a microscope, and I questioned the newfound style I was becoming so confident in. Did people think I was trying too hard? Did people think I was seeking attention? Not trying enough? All because I wasn't wearing a stiff dress, the latest trend, or a seasonally-appropriate sweater that didn't feel like me?
The reassurance I needed came from my aunt, who, after finding out I was letting other people's negativity affect my choices, told me that it's OK to take other people's feedback, but it's also OK to ignore it, particularly when they don't have your happiness in mind. Obviously, this was one piece of feedback I was quick to take to heart. Finding my own style wasn't about me being trendy. It wasn't about anything other than learning to love and listen to my body and to be confident in how I look. And it wasn't about pleasing anyone else but me.
Not too long ago, I looked at myself, clad in a sports bra and leggings, in the mirror. I was about to head out the door when a nagging voice that sounded a lot like the unwelcome feedback I'd gotten so many times popped in my head. “Maybe you should take a break from the sports bras. People might think you're going overboard with this look.”
I was looking for a different shirt when I paused and twisted my body back around to examine it in the mirror. “No, I like this,” I thought to myself. I threw on my bright pink Adidas jacket, floral side up, and strutted out of my dorm, armor intact.